The Last Supper
Artist Leonardo da Vinci
Type tempera on gesso, pitch, and mastic
Location Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan
Last Supper, also called Lord’s Supper, in the New Testament (Matthew 26:17–29; Mark 14:12–25; Luke 22:7–38; I Corinthians 11:23–25), the final meal shared by Jesus and his disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem, the occasion of the institution of the Eucharist. According to the biblical account, Jesus sent two of his disciples to prepare for the meal and met with all the disciples in the upper room. He told them that one of them would betray him. After blessing bread and wine and giving it to them to eat and drink, Jesus told them that it was his body and his blood of the Covenant.
The Last Supper specifically portrays the reaction given by each apostle when Jesus said one of them would betray him. All twelve apostles have different reactions to the news, with various degrees of anger and shock. The apostles are identified from a manuscript, (The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci p. 232) with their names found in the 19th century. (Before this, only Judas, Peter, John and Jesus were positively identified.) From left to right, according to the apostles' heads:
Bartholomew, James, son of Alphaeus, and Andrew form a group of three; all are surprised.
Judas Iscariot, Peter, and John form another group of three. Judas is wearing green and blue and is in shadow, looking rather withdrawn and taken aback by the sudden revelation of his plan. He is clutching a small bag, perhaps signifying the silver given to him as payment to betray Jesus, or perhaps a reference to his role within the 12 disciples as treasurer. He is also tipping over the salt cellar. This may be related to the near-Eastern expression to "betray the salt" meaning to betray one's Master. He is the only person to have his elbow on the table and his head is also horizontally the lowest of anyone in the painting. Peter looks angry and is holding a knife pointed away from Christ, perhaps foreshadowing his violent reaction in Gethsemane during Jesus' arrest. The youngest apostle, John, appears to swoon.
Apostle Thomas, James the Greater, and Philip are the next group of three. Thomas is clearly upset; the raised index finger foreshadows his incredulity of the Resurrection. James the Greater looks stunned, with his arms in the air. Meanwhile, Philip appears to be requesting some explanation.
Matthew, Jude Thaddeus, and Simon the Zealot are the final group of three. Both Jude Thaddeus and Matthew are turned toward Simon, perhaps to find out if he has any answer to their initial questions.